11 August 2021

  • Centurion Way:   11 August 2021
  • Walk Leader: Rose
  • Distance: 9.7 Miles
  • Start: 10am at Avenue de Chartres CP GR: SU858044

Walking the Centurion Way to immerse ourselves in Chichester’s rich history 

On a pleasantly warm Wednesday morning fifteen members of Petersfield Ramblers met on Avenue de Chartres for a unique and interesting walk centred on the Centurion Way – and taking in the primary historical sights of Chichester. 

The Centurion Way is a 5 ½  mile path that runs between Chichester, Lavant and West Dean using the route of the dismantled Chichester to Midhurst Railway, which finally closed in 1991; although ceasing passenger services in 1935, the line stayed open for transport of sugar beet and gravel for a further 50+ years. The name, Centurion Way, was suggested by a local schoolboy and is based on the fact that the path crosses the course of a Roman road.  Sculptures relating to aspects of local history are provided as points of interest in association with the South East Arts Board.  

We started our walk with a ‘comfort stop’ given the nearness of good facilities (a rarity on our normal rural walks)! Refreshed, we set off up South Street, turning left through the 16th century stone gateway on to Canon Lane and into the cathedral’s charming historic quarter. A paved pathway lined by colourful borders took us to the cathedrals’ remarkable cloisters, from where we passed round the south-west entrance and on to West Street and affluent Westgate. After half a mile – at the entrance of Bishop Luffa School – we found the start of the Centurion Way, leading us north along a wide surfaced pathway, lined with trees and shared with cyclists.  

fter a mile and a half of easy walking, keeping the western extremities of Chichester housing hidden by greenery on our right, we emerged into an open area – the site of a former quarry. This area, called the Roman Amphitheatre, provided the perfect setting for our coffee stop with plenty of wooden benches. Within the Amphitheatre is the spot where the Roman road crosses the route, which is marked by a wonderful sculpture depicting an army of spade-wielding Roman workers called the Chichester Road Gang. The Gang – made from empty oxygen gas cylinders by Cornish sculptor David Kemp – includes a ganger with a bowler hat, workers with spades and a surveyor with a theodolite. It has been erected on the site of old wagon loading bays and offered a great photo opportunity.

Chichester Road Gang

No sooner had we set off, revitalised, than we encountered our fourth delightful brick bridge – decorated with animal cut-outs drawn by children from Lavant Primary School and reproduced in steel sheet by Richard Farrington. Our favourite character in the so-called Primary Hangers was the bat. 

The Centurion Way took us on to Lavant, through a quiet housing estate and back out into countryside. Shortly before its conclusion at West Dean, we veered off, effectively making a U-turn to take us back to Chichester. But, not wishing to retrace our steps, we joined a parallel pathway – the West Sussex Literary Trail – for our southward jaunt, following the largely-dry River Lavant. After a stop for lunch, we carried on into the north end of Chichester, through Oaklands Park to the exceptional Festival Theatre, when, at sight of the newly revamped Café on the Park, our Chairman’s wife exclaimed “Let’s stop for coffee and cake”, most of us happily agreed. We basked in comfortable outside seats, enjoying the warm sun and some delicious food and drinks. Indeed, a couple of members decadently chose afternoon beers! The posh theatre ‘facilities’ were also much appreciated! 

However, this fun day still wasn’t over! We couldn’t possibly finish without a traipse along the city walls: the most intact Roman walls in the South of England. The walls, as we see them today, date from the Romans in the 3rd century; they were built to defend the prosperous town against coastal raiders, and to protect its trade and status. A City Wall Trail runs for about 1.5 miles around the city, on top of or beside the largely intact walls. We joined the trail in the north, circling clockwise around Priory Park, with a great view across the busy parkland below, full of children, laughter and purple balloons. Continuing around we crossed East Street, regaining the walls in the south before breaking off down Theatre Lane and back to our cars. 

It was a lovely day out with something interesting and different around every corner – an easy 9.7 mile walk, full of history, culture, nature and excellent facilities. 

Written by Sandy & Rose                             

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